Monday, May 31, 2010


One of the great joys of life for Shirley and myself, is the close connection we feel with three generations of our offspring. We think of this in a special way as we go about the chores associated with stocking our shelves, making out shopping lists, and savoring the good things of life that come from garden, greenhouse, pantry or root cellar to grace our daily table. Our extended family live away from us except for celebrative get-togethers, but we talk to one or another of them daily.
The subjects of these phone and e-mail conversations are wide-ranging, but one thing comes up with heart-warming regularity: “Grandpa, how do you go about creating a roux for that New Orleans Gumbo of yours” asks a granddaughter in Colorado ? “Mom, how do you get your chocolate chip cookies so crispy yet tender at the same time ?” “Priya wants to know if Grandpa will be making black bean soup when we visit you” asks the mother of a five-year old great–granddaughter many miles away. “ Tell mother my latest whole wheat bread came out looking just like hers”, reports a daughter trying a new combination of flours. Or. . . “Will you two be making corn relish this year ? Will you let us know so that we can come down and learn how you do it ? By the way. . . we are all out ! Do you have an extra jar ?”
And when we do get together as a family, regardless of occasion, we end up at the now-extended dinner table where life-long memories are rekindled by a menu filled with the history we have shared as a family over a fifty-six year span. (So far.)
In an honored corner of our pantry book shelf resides a small cookbook written and self-published more than three decades ago by a friend and former neighbor of ours back in the mid-west. Beverly Nye’s recipes are great, but what has long endeared her book to us is the title she gave it: A FAMILY RAISED ON SUNSHINE.
Bev’s book is not just a collection of time-tested recipes assembled by a devoted wife, mother and home cook, but a celebration of the threads of everyday love bound up in the humble art of home-making and family-keeping.
I mention all of this because at a time when all is not well across the country with our economic challenges, and the prospect of higher fuel, food and living costs, there is something of an incipient renaissance going on. Many people are beginning to rethink our high-consumption / high -dependency lifestyle, and wondering if maybe grandma and grandpa knew something after all. Perhaps being able to do more with less is worth thinking about. Perhaps there is a silver lining to having to stay home more, travel less, watch our dollars more closely and be more creative and frugal in meal-planning and table-keeping.
Recent statistics tell us that the average American family eats 38% of its meals away from home while depending heavily upon “convenience” ingredients with a short shelf life and a high cost for the meals that are prepared at home. There are many who would argue that our modern-day dependency upon the very technologies which promised to simplify day-to-day family life may actually make us more vulnerable to economic swings and temporary set-backs than any previous generation. It’s worth thinking about.
When all is said and done, whether it rains or doesn’t, the two of us continue to cook and bake and home-preserve together, (and answer the phone when it rings ), encouraged by the idea that the best pay-off of all is to have a family raised on sunshine.

Shirley and daughter Shayne mix up a batch of yeast-based dinner rolls – a family favorite.

Al teaches two great grandchildren the fine art of making whole wheat-yogurt-blueberry pancakes.

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